Find Out Why the U.S. Is the Only Democracy Opposed to the CEDAW

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The US refuses to ratify CEDAW. joeyful / Getty Images

Because the U.S. is a leading proponent of international women's rights, it is confusing that the nation won't ratify CEDAW, the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Over 180 countries have ratified CEDAW, and the U.S. is the only democracy that has not, amongst the seven nations. Ratification of the CEDAW is important to communities on a global scale, as it would help the U.S. demonstrate moral authority and leadership to eliminate discrimination.

Often referred to as an international bill of rights for women, CEDAW was adopted by the United Nations in 1979. President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty guaranteeing gender equity within its first year. But the Senate has never ratified CEDAW, and without ratification, the U.S. is not bound by its provisions.

Backed by Three Presidents

In addition to Carter, two other presidents have attempted to push CEDAW forward. Urged by the Clinton administration in 1994, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on CEDAW and recommended it be ratified. Despite this, Senator Jesse Helms, a leading conservative and longtime CEDAW opponent, prevented a vote in the Senate.

In the early years of his administration, President George W. Bush looked favorably on ratification of CEDAW but later changed his position. In 2002, although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to approve the treaty, it was never sent to the full Senate for advice and consent to ratification.

Opposed by Conservatives and the Religious Right

Over 100 organizations support ratification of CEDAW including Amnesty International, the League of Women Voters, and AARP, the United States non-profit organization that helps Americans with life and health insurance.

The main opposition comes from conservative groups and the religious right who are concerned that CEDAW will challenge the laws and culture of the U.S. In arguments against CEDAW, the conservative organization Concerned Women for America cite that ratification of the treaty will do the following:

  • Negate family law and undermine traditional family values by redefining the family
  • Force the U.S. to pay men and women the same for "work of equal value," thus going against our free-market system
  • Ensure access to abortion services and contraception
  • Create a possible "backdoor" for feminists
  • Allow same-sex marriage
  • Legalize prostitution
  • Promote gender re-education
  • Negate parental rights
  • Undermine the sovereignty of the U.S.

Reviewed by a 23-member Committee

For these aforementioned reasons, conservative politicians have actively fought against ratification of CEDAW and thwarted any attempt to introduce a vote before the full Senate. With support from the religious right, they state that CEDAW is at best, unnecessary. At worst, they believe it will subject the U.S. to the whims of the 23-member CEDAW Committee, which reviews the reports of ongoing compliance efforts submitted by ratifying nations every four years.

As Concerned Women for America states,

"This, in essence, places the welfare and well being of American women and families at the mercy of 23 individuals, among whom the United States might not even have a voice."


  • Cohn, Marjorie. "Obama: Ratify the Women' Convention Soon.", 5 December 2008.
  • MacLeod, Lauren. "Exposing CEDAW.", 5 September 2000.